As Carpinteria prepares to hold its first-ever district elections for city councilmembers in November 2022, the actual boundaries of the five districts will be decided with the help of the public, with open-forum meetings starting Monday, September 20.
The decision to move from at-large elections of councilmembers to five district races was approved by the city council earlier this summer on July 26 in a 4-1 vote, with Councilmember Roy Lee as the sole dissenting voice. The council had the option between four districts, with the mayor elected in an at-large election, or five districts with the mayor being appointed every two years out of the pool of councilmembers.
The push for the change began with a complaint filed on July 3, 2017, via a letter to the city of Carpinteria from Jatzibe Sandoval and Frank Gonzalez titled “Notice of Violation of California Voting Rights Act,” according to the city website. The letter said Carpinteria’s current election process is “characterized by racially polarized voting” and asked that the city begin the process to transition to district-based elections or else face a lawsuit.
The bill, introduced in 2015, prohibits the use of an at-large election if it would “impair the ability of a protected class” to elect candidates of its choice or otherwise influence the outcome of an election.
The city denies that its current system violates the act but eventually agreed with the prospective plaintiffs to institute district elections by November 2022, in order to allow 2020 census data to be collected and considered in drafting the district boundaries.
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An ad-hoc district election committee was formed and recommended the options between four districts of about 3,400 people each or five districts of 2,700 each. The recommendation was ultimately made to break the city up into five districts, which would allow for two districts with a higher percentage of minority voters.
“Five districts would allow the Latino community to have a greater chance to elect their ‘candidate of choice’ in seats that are 41% and 48% Latino, and that would be harmed in a four-district scenario in which their share of the electorate would be reduced,” the ad-hoc committee wrote in a staff report.
City program manager Olivia Uribe-Mutal said in the new system, the elections would be staggered in order to comply with the voting rights act and to allow the two districts with more minority representation to vote in years with a presidential election, which have traditionally higher turnout and the other districts in years with a gubernatorial race.
Lee, the only councilmember to oppose the five-district option, said he had hoped that the council would choose four districts and allow for an at-large mayoral election, instead of the two-year appointment from the councilmembers.
“I feel that having four districts and an at-large mayor would be more important,” Lee said. “I think it’s time we let the community decide who is mayor. I think that is long overdue.”
The process of drafting the boundaries will be made using 2020 U.S. Census data and input from public, with meetings between September 2021 and March 2022, when the map will be finalized.
The first community workshops are scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Monday, September 20; noon on Wednesday, September 22; and 2 p.m. on Sunday, September 26, where the city will hear public input and identify “communities of interest” for the districts. For more info, visit carpinteriaprojects.com/district-elections.